A recently formed political party, Alternative für Deutschland (Alternative for Germany, or AfD), did well in the last month’s elections in Germany. It gained almost 13 per cent of the vote, and will have around 90 seats in the Bundestag. The media describe it is an extreme right-wing or populist party, which is a subtle way of telling us what to think.
No doubt some extremists are drawn to the AfD, but a quick glance at its manifesto reveals much that would be acceptable to many Conservatives, particularly Conservative Brexiteers. It might even attract some in the Labour Party: item 14.1 declares that “the water supply belongs in the public sector”. Catholics would surely approve of its policies on marriage and the family: no same-sex marriage; children need a father and mother; gender ideology is “anti-constitutional”.
Journalists working for the Guardian or the BBC no doubt feel that these policies in themselves justify the label “extreme”. But worse is to come. Paragraph 5.8 of the AfD manifesto declares that “Islam does not belong in Germany”. That would seem to be an instance of out-and-out prejudice and discrimination – using religion as a cover for racism since few Muslims are indigenous Europeans.
Does the AfD also believe that Hinduism or Buddhism have no place in Germany? Apparently not. Beatrix von Storch, vice-chairman of AfD and an MEP, was interviewed on Newsnight. The daughter of Duke Huno of Oldenburg and a graduate of Heidelberg University, she does not fit one’s preconceived notion of a populist rabble-rouser. In excellent English, she explained that, unlike Buddhism or Hinduism, Islam is not just a religion but also a political ideology. Making no distinction between God and Caesar, it seeks to bring about a universal caliphate and impose Sharia law. Most of the one million refugees and economic migrants encouraged to travel to Germany by Angela Merkel were Muslims; and there is already a large number of Muslim Turks there. How can such a substantial minority fail to alter the nature of German culture and society?
This objection to the growth of an Islamic presence is not confined to the AfD or Germany. In Switzerland, the building of minarets was banned after a plebiscite. Marine Le Pen, candidate of the Front Nationale, won 33.9 per cent of the vote in the first round of France’s presidential election. Last year, in Austria the right-wing Freedom Party’s presidential candidate, Norbert Hofer, won 46 per cent of the vote and this week a ban on the wearing the burqa came into force. The Hungarians have refused to accept the quota of Muslim refugees allocated by the EU: having battled against the jihad of the Ottoman Turks for many centuries, they balk at seeing large numbers of Muslims come in through the back door.
The historian James Hawes, writing in the New Statesman, ascribed the success of the AfD in the former East Germany to the historic alienation of those provinces east of the Elbe. But his hypothesis does not account for the party’s success in prosperous Catholic Bavaria. Pope Francis asks Catholics to welcome refugees and, despite a thousand years of conflict between Islam and Christendom, tells us that Islam is a peaceful religion. Yet many of the Catholic laity fear for their distinctive Catholic culture. Will the Frauenkirche that dominates Munich’s skyline soon be joined by a “Herrenminarett”?
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